During the spring of 1790, the U.S. government passed the first patent law. It got off to a slow start—only three patents were granted that year. Things eventually heated up, though, and by 1836, the total had climbed to almost 10,000. With documents piling high, the government decided to protect all the paperwork in a new, fire-resistant building. Construction began, and they placed the files in temporary storage.
Which promptly caught on fire.
The blaze gutted the building and destroyed the records—despite there being a fire station right next-door. (It was December, and a wintry freeze mucked up the pumps.) Today—and some 8 million patents later—those documents are called the “X-Patents.” Although most of them are lost, we have a barebones record of what used to be there, giving us a peek into what America’s earliest inventors were up to.
Patent X1Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont snagged the first patent July 31, 1790. His invention improved “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new apparatus and Process.”
Patent X2Joseph Sampson’s invention aided the “manufacturing of candles.” Later on, the Boston candle maker helped invent the continuous wick.